December 2, 2021

West Bank anger boils as Jenin becomes hotbed of resistance

Jenin refugee camp, occupied West Bank – Palestinian armed groups are increasingly becoming more visible as frustration with the Israeli military, violent settlers, and the Palestinian leadership – whose authority continues to wane – intensifies.

Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday night in the first top-level meeting between the two sides in10 years.

One of the main issues discussed was security coordination in light of the deteriorating safety situation in the occupied West Bank where PA and Israeli security forces are facing an increase in resistance from armed Palestinian groups, with a burgeoning number of firefights taking place as Palestinian disillusionment with the peace process reaches a nadir.

Israel is already concerned about its border with Gaza heating up after Hamas and other resistance groups said they planned to increase confrontations in the form of launching incendiary and explosive balloons into Israel until the 14-year siege of the coastal territory eases completely.

With the backing and encouragement of Washington, Israel’s about-turn – after previously ignoring the PA, undermining it and refusing to pass on the taxes Israel collected on its behalf – comes as the two political entities realise they face a common enemy in the form of increasingly confident groups of Palestinian gunmen aligned to various political factions in the West Bank who are unafraid to challenge them militarily.

PA security forces are afraid to go into Jenin refugee camp and have been unable to control the camp.

Israeli special forces raided it several weeks ago and arrested a wanted Palestinian but in a subsequent gunfight between resistance fighters and the soldiers four Palestinians were shot dead.

‘Shot in the back of the head’

Saleh Ammar, 19, was one of four Palestinians who died after being shot by Israeli soldiers who said they came under attack.

However, his father Ahmed Ammar disputed the Israeli version of events, saying the four were ambushed as they came onto the streets to see the disturbance.

“Saleh was shot in the back of his head and died shortly afterwards,” Ahmed Ammar told Al Jazeera.

“Our neighbour was being arrested and there were armed soldiers on top of a surrounding building who opened fire on the young men as soon as they saw them, and only then did our guys shoot back,” he added.

Irrespective of whose version of events is correct, Jenin refugee camp is a hotbed of resistance activity and awash with weapons.

On a previous occasion Al Jazeera witnessed dozens of gunmen from several different political factions firing into the night air with automatic weapons as they promised to take revenge for the deaths of their comrades.

An Israeli raid in June led to another gunfight with Israeli soldiers, killing several members of the PA’s military intelligence unit that they said they mistook for shooters from the camp.

During the second Palestinian Intifada, the camp was almost completely razed in 2002 with 23 Israeli soldiers killed and dozens of Palestinian fighters also dying during clashes after a number of suicide bombers originating from the camp attacked the Israelis.

Relatives react during the funeral of Palestinian security officer Tayseer Issa, who was killed by Israeli forces in Jenin in June [Mohamad Torokman/Reuters]

‘We are all united’

The PA has also struggled to subdue the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, with numerous clashes between PA security forces and members of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades taking place in the camp.

Last week the latest gun battle erupted after Israeli soldiers invaded the camp.

During the raid Imad Khaled Saleh Hashash, 15, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers who said he had a rock in his hand while his family said he was attempting to film the invasion with his mobile phone.

Two days-ago PA security forces engaged in an exchange of gunfire with shooters in Qabatiya town in the northern West Bank.

However, the PA is not only facing resistance from gunmen associated with opposition factions but also from groups affiliated with Fatah, the faction that dominates the PA.

“The resistance fighters in our camp are from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups – we are all united,” Saleh’s mother Najah told Al Jazeera.

While grieving the death of their son and angry at the circumstances in which he died, which they consider “an execution”, Saleh’s parents are proud of him and believe in the camp’s fight for justice.

“We are all Palestinian and it doesn’t matter how many times the Israelis raid the camp or how many of us they kill we will fight back,” added Ahmed Ammar.

‘Public rage’

The Israeli military is also battling to control a united uprising from across the Palestinian political spectrum in the town of Beita, near Nablus, where Palestinian protests against Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land has resulted in daily clashes, arrests and the death of seven Palestinians as they defiantly carry out a campaign of civil disobedience.

“We have been protesting for over three months and we will continue to fight for the return of our land until the last man,” villager Muhammad Khabeisa, who lost agricultural land to the illegal settlement of Evyatar told Al Jazeera.

Concerned with the growing militarism, Israeli media outlet Walla! News reported a top Israeli military official in the occupied West Bank warned if Palestinian Authority security forces were unable to deal with the situation the army would be forced to launch a large-scale operation in the region.

Israeli political analyst Yohanan Tzoreff, from the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, warned the security situation in the West Bank was deteriorating.

“Mass demonstrations, harsh criticism, and conflicts with the Palestinian security apparatuses – the status of the PA continues to weaken, and this affects the security situation in the West Bank,” said Tzoreff.

“Public rage is ongoing, expressions of distrust in the PA agencies resound, allegations of PA corruption accompanied by sarcasm have intensified, and violent clashes between clans have multiplied, while the PA security forces are afraid to intervene.

“Security control in Jenin has been weakened, and the activity of ‘armed local gangs’ has recently made it necessary for the IDF [Israeli army] to take action in the area in order to prevent ‘terrorist attacks’,” said Tzoreff.

Palestinian political analysts concurred as to the fragile situation in the West Bank.

Writing in Quds News online, Hassan Lafi said Jenin, specifically the refugee camp, was a top priority and strategic target for the Israeli military as it battles to control the alley camps.

According to Lafi, there was an Israeli realisation that any delay in dealing with Jenin meant that it could turn into an inspiring model for the entire West Bank.

Analyst Omar Ja’ara added the occupied West Bank had become a real front similar to Gaza and the Israel was aware of the imminent danger from there.